Belle Vernon School Board continues to work on reducing deficit

April 19, 2017
Belle Vernon Area High School

Belle Vernon School Board on Tuesday discussed the district’s 2017-2018 budget, which still contains a deficit, although smaller than previously anticipated.

According to business manager James Dzurica, the district’s current proposed budget contains revenues of $37,246,979, expenditures of $37,755,236, and a deficit of $508,257, which is down from the $2.25 million deficit that was projected in the original preliminary budget. Dzurica said revenues are projected to increase by 4 percent and expenses are projected to increase by 5 percent from last year.

“The district still has a significant deficit but not as large as was previously anticipated,” said Dzurica, who took over the business manager position at the end of January.

Director John M. Nusser Jr. asked Dzurica if this budget is based on a tax increase being approved to the maximum state index level of 3.4 percent. Dzurica said an increase to the maximum will not be needed, but that the current budget contains the maximum increase of $688,443 in real estate taxes.

Each detailed line item of the budget was reviewed, Dzurica said, and he also prepared worksheets to test and verify the budgeted amounts to check for accuracy. He said he basically “did an audit of prior budgets.” By doing this, he said found items that were being carried over each year that were no longer relevant to this year’s budget.

He said for example, the original budget projected reimbursement rates from the state for Social Security and retirement costs were at 50 percent. Upon his review and based on historical reimbursement percentages, the revised budget has a rate of 55 percent for Social Security and 58 percent for retirement, adding $503,337 in revenue.

He said he was able to remove items such as a life skills classroom that was discontinued after 2015-16 and was also able to reduce the Intermediate Unit expenses by $182,948 to better reflect the district’s use of its services. He said among other adjustments, he was also able to reduce salaries and benefits by $142,611 by removing the salary and benefits of an employee who had been moved to a different position but was being budgeted for both jobs.

Dzurica said because the previous business manager was “conservative” with her budgeting, he was able to make adjustments to lower the deficit from the original projections.

Dzurica said there was a net increase of $92,726 in expenses, with a big portion of if this increase coming from special education due to accommodations for incoming students. He said he “felt it was best to bump it up to prepare for these students.”

Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson said administrators hope to chip down the $508,257 deficit as they move forward with their work on the budget. “Our goal is to get that down without a lot of changes to the district,” Wilkinson said.

Dzurica and Wilkinson will present their recommendations for the balancing the budget to the board at another workshop meeting on May 1. “Our recommendation is to raise taxes,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said he is uncertain if the May 1 will be open to the public because it will involve is a matter that needs to be discussed with the district solicitor.

Wilkinson said the public will be notified about the meeting once more information is available. The preliminary budget will be on the agenda for approval on May 22 and the board will vote to approve the 2017-18 final budget on June 26.

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